The day after Donald Trump's impeachment, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delivered prepared remarks on his chamber's floor for quite a while, largely focusing on condemning the House majority for taking action against his party's president.
There was, however, one word McConnell used over and over again.
"The House's vote yesterday was not some neutral judgment that Democrats came to reluctantly. It was the pre-determined end of a partisan crusade... Long after the partisan fever of this moment has broken, the institutional damage will remain.... A political faction in the lower chamber have succumbed to partisan rage. [emphasis added]"
Yes, Kentucky's senior senator has seen recent political developments, and he's eager to tell the public how concerned he is about "partisanship."
The impeachment process, McConnell insisted, was "purely partisan." The House Intelligence Committee's inquiry, he added, was "poisoned by partisanship." Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), McConnell complained, is "a partisan member of Congress."
Toward the end of his speech, the Senate majority leader went so far as to argue that future historians will marvel at the fact that "so many who professed such concern for our norms and traditions themselves proved willing to trample our constitutional order to get their way."
He did not appear to be kidding.
I'm reminded anew of a column the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote a couple of years ago, in which he described McConnell as the politician who effectively “broke America.”
No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power. […]McConnell is no idiot. He is a clever man who does what works for him in the moment, consequences be damned.
I'm going to circle back to our analysis from the time, because I think this is important, especially given the current circumstances.
Whether one finds McConnell’s work outrageous is a matter of perspective. If you’re a narrowly focused Republican partisan, the GOP’s Senate leader has simply taken every possible opportunity to maximize his party’s interests, using the levers of power at his disposal. McConnell, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t committed any crimes in his partisan pursuits, so much as he’s pushed the envelope in ways without precedent in the American tradition, ignoring any sense of norms or institutional limits.
And to that end, McConnell has been quite successful.
But if you’re not a narrowly focused Republican partisan, and your principal concern is with the health of the American political system, McConnell’s work has earned him a role as one of this generation’s most consequential villains.
It was McConnell who changed Senate norms to require 60-vote supermajorities on every piece of legislation of any significance. It was McConnell who was responsible for creating the modern judicial confirmation wars. It was McConnell who spearheaded every recent attempt to derail campaign-finance reforms.
It was McConnell who cooked up an unprecedented scorched-earth scheme to undermine Barack Obama’s presidency, deliberately refusing to consider any compromises – even if it meant rejecting his own ideas – in the hopes of trying to ensure that the Democratic president only served one term.
It was McConnell who imposed the first-ever, year-long blockade on any Supreme Court nominee. It was McConnell who was warned about Russia’s illegal attack on the American election last year, only to scuttle efforts to address the crisis in the hopes of putting Moscow’s candidate in the Oval Office.
It was McConnell who decided to shift with the political winds in order to advance his partisan crusade. Milbank's column added, “[M]ost characteristic of McConnell is his tendency to shift his views to suit current exigencies (on the minimum wage, withdrawal from Iraq, earmarks, abortion, labor and civil rights) and his adroitness at gumming up the works: forcing clerks to spend hours reading a bill aloud on the floor; opposing immigration legislation he’d encouraged; asking for a vote on a debt-ceiling proposal and then trying to filibuster it; urging the Obama administration to support a bipartisan debt commission and then voting against it.”
This isn’t about issues or ideology, per se. My point isn’t that McConnell is on the right, and I’m on the left, so I’m opposed to his vision and preferred policies. Rather, we’re talking about politics on an institutional level. We can evaluate the Kentucky Republican’s views on given issues on a case-by-case basis, but what makes McConnell so destructive is how he’s pursued his priorities, not the priorities themselves.
I don’t blame McConnell for considering partisan advantage important; I blame him for prioritizing partisan advantage above literally every other consideration, including the health and sustainability of our political system. I’m not bothered by his victories; I’m bothered by what those victories have cost.
And it’s against this backdrop that McConnell took to the Senate floor, not just to cover for his scandal-plagued ally in the Oval Office, but to condemn those who have the audacity to engage in politics he deems "partisan," trampling our "constitutional order to get their way."
If the Senate majority leader doesn’t want to be laughed at, perhaps he should try a less ridiculous message.